Ghostwire taps into the charm of Tokyo to deliver a compelling experience

Located in the heart of downtown Tokyo, game development studio Tango Gameworks was founded in 2010 by award-winning game designer Shinji Mikami. Tango strives first and foremost to make “great games to entertain players.” Tango also focuses on raising the next generation of great developers by giving opportunities to up-and-coming talent supported by accomplished veterans with experience working on AAA franchises ranging from the Resident Evil series to Metal Gear. Since its founding, Tango Gameworks has released The Evil Within, The Evil Within 2, and its first next-gen title, "Ghostwire: Tokyo" in 2022.
After spending seven years establishing Tango Gameworks as a studio known for its masterfully spooky survival horror games with The Evil Within franchise, founder Shinji Mikami surprised everyone with news that the studio’s third title would be an action-adventure game, albeit one soaking in the suburban legends, spirits, and lore of Japan.

Ghostwire: Tokyo hit earlier this year tapping deeply into Yokai mythology of the city and delivering a game with an arresting visual style, dense design, and captivating atmosphere. We spoke with the team about the studio’s jump from id Tech to Unreal Engine, how the studio created an action game wrapped in horror, but driven by adventure, and the studio's hopes for future technology.

Tango Gameworks’ previous two games–The Evil Within and The Evil Within 2–were built based on id Tech. What made the studio decide to shift to Unreal Engine for Ghostwire: Tokyo?

Lead Programmer Toshihiko Tsuji: Some of the reasons are that new graphics features are implemented sooner, with Blueprints, level designers can build logic with ease, the cost of supporting multi platforms can be reduced, and when additional human resources are needed in the latter half of development, we can recruit development staff members (especially artists) more easily by focusing on "people with UE4 experience.”

How difficult was that transition to a new engine for Ghostwire?

System Programmer Hideyuki Miyashita: The idTech custom had been greatly modified to be fitted to The Evil Within, so that it tended not to be so easy to use when we wanted to experiment with a new project.

Along with changing to Unreal Engine, we needed some time to learn Blueprints and other things. However, some of its design was similar to that of idTech. So we didn't have that much trouble shifting to Unreal.

How did Unreal Engine technology help Tango Gameworks realize its vision for Ghostwire, and how did that vision evolve over time?

Graphics Programmer Mitsuru Sugiyama: It helped make our development iterations more efficient. This is because artists became able to do trial and error on special Materials and Post Process Effects, which were applied to express the paranormal in Ghostwire: Tokyo, on their own to a far greater extent.
Image courtesy of Tango Gameworks
Tango Gameworks and Shinji Mikami have a long, successful history creating wonderfully frightening horror games. What made the studio decide to take some of the classic elements of horror and instead create an action-adventure game?

Director Kenji Kimura: Tango Gameworks, or Mikami's policy, was to create fun products with high quality whatever their genre was. With this project, we wished to allow the players to experience the attractiveness of Tokyo, where we, ourselves, were born and grew up. We saw Tokyo as a city with unique attractiveness where old traditional culture and new culture coexisted. Then our aim was that we could form the charm of Tokyo, which was full of such contrasting elements, into our original game while we, ourselves, were re-discovering it. Thus, we wished for the "fun of experiencing extraordinary things that are usually invisible but do exist in ordinary lives.”

How is Ghostwire: Tokyo not a horror game, and what elements of horror does it retain?

Kimura: We decided to pick out urban legends and Yokai tales as a part of the traditional culture remaining in modern Tokyo. These are not always about monstrous creatures attacking and eating people. We felt that in many cases, such tales just tended to make us slightly frightened. For example, you would notice a vague figure at the back of a narrow alley, wondering what it is, and walk toward it. Then you would find out that it's a spectre, like a human body without a head! This kind of mythology could stem from the anxiousness and stress people have in their daily lives. We wanted to create such weirdness, and the phenomena and feelings of discomfort that occur in ordinary lives, as game experience.

How did Unreal Engine help the studio breathe life into its Yokai concepts?

Sugiyama: Due to the powerful rendering engine, we were able to express the feel of various materials.

Japan’s lexicon of spirits is immense and not at all like what is found in the west, both in terms of behavior and look. How did you go about deciding which Yokai to include in the game?

Kimura: For us, who grew up in Japan, Yokai were very popular. As a kid, animations featuring Yokai were broadcast on TV in the evenings, and I loved to watch them. Thus, I decided to feature Yokai, which are well-known in Japan. The first Yokai I chose was Kappa. This was not only because it was well-known, but also because I was inspired by the novel Kappa written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. This novel is about a guy who chased a Kappa, wandering into another world where their values were reversed from those of our world. This novel has something in common with Ghostwire: Tokyo. That's why I chose Kappa first.

Also, in a way, Yokai can be seen as the embodiment of natural phenomena. I guess Yokai are the expression of awe and respect toward nature. So, in our game, we did not express Yokai as something that causes deadly harm to us, but something that exists by us.
Image courtesy of Tango Gameworks
The game’s captivating visuals aren’t just tied to the creatures you encounter during the game, the combat is also striking. It appears you’ve taken some of the traditional Japanese hand gestures of Kuji-Kiri and modernized them. Can you walk me through how you evolved the look of the combat and some of its inspirations beyond the traditional and how Unreal Engine helped the team create the look of the game’s combat?

Kimura: Tokyo has its own unique charm because various cultures are mixed. So, we also think much of traditional culture such as Kuji-Kiri, ninjutsu, and martial arts, and we, the production team, tried to pursue what we personally felt was cool. We did not intentionally re-use such traditional acts as they are, but exchanged opinions to create those expressions, saying "That's cool, isn't it?" or "That looks as if it could do an exorcism" while actually gesturing using our hands at our desks. Due to such a production process, I guess the cultural backgrounds of each member of the production team was mixed together, so that we could create the unique look. Though we had a hard time in some parts, I remember we enjoyed creating it.

Lead VFX Artist Koei Kikuchi: For the VFX of the battle scenes, we made much use of Particle Effects and Post Process Effects.

In the UE environment, artists can make adjustments to Materials and Particles Effects and check them immediately on the screen. So, Unreal Engine has made it possible for us to do a huge amount of adjustment work within a limited schedule.
Image courtesy of Tango Gameworks
Overall, Ghostwire: Tokyo strikes a very different look and approach to action-adventure, seemingly finding its own space in a traditionally crowded field. How did the team find its way to such a unique look and gameplay without pushing too far afield from what players might expect?

Kimura: Our most important concept was to let players enjoy paranormal sightseeing in Tokyo. For that purpose, we created the city of Tokyo first. The city was not just a collection of existing sightseeing spots. Rather, we, the production team, who actually lived in Tokyo, walked around in the city to select spots that we felt were characteristic of Tokyo. We then focused on the scenario, game design, and production based on the finished Tokyo. Since this is not a usual production process in game development, I think we were able to create a unique Tokyo in our project, and that we were able to express unusual experiences hidden under usual lives as a game.

Were there any particular elements of Unreal Engine that helped the team in the development process?

Sugiyama: Due to the fundamental implementation of ray tracing in the engine, we could focus on quality improvement and optimization, which was greatly helpful. Cutting-edge technologies had been being implemented by Unreal Engine one after another, so we were happy that we could just concentrate on creating content using those technologies.

Did the team have any particular challenges that the engine helped the team overcome, if so, can you walk us through that process?

Graphics Programmer Tsuyoshi Okugawa: One challenge was how we could deal with merging Meshes and Materials when creating the LOD system for Ghostwire. Since Proxy Mesh was released, we were able to resolve the challenge without having to implement anything by ourselves.
Image courtesy of Tango Gameworks
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, where can people find out more about Tango Gameworks and Ghostwire: Tokyo?

Producer Masato Kimura: I am Masato Kimura, development manager at Tango Gameworks and also producer of Ghostwire: Tokyo. I would like to thank you for the many questions and letting us talk on various topics.

We'll keep updating the latest movement and information about Ghostwire: Tokyo and Tango Gameworks on our official website and Twitter.

We'll continue to create and release games that you could not even imagine are created by Tango Gameworks considering what we have created. So please stay tuned!

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